Signal’s Breaking Up

I would like to write about communication today, and some implications in our daily lives (and I would like to warn you, it’s going to be a long post!)

As you already know, I changed my job recently, from Sales to Internal Communications, and while I am still very focused on not writing about work here, or colleagues, or anything similar; working in this department is actually quite interesting because it’s making me look for ways to communicate better.

When I was a student, at some point in my life they taught us about non verbal communication, and it sort of sounded like magic to me. Then, studying Consumer Psychology and similar in Advertising, made me realise just how important it is to communicate the message we want to so that the audience understands exactly what we want to convey.

The same word can have different connotations depending on the non verbal communication that surrounds it. Let’s take a word with a negative connotation such as “idiot”. The meaning of this word will still be the same: someone we think lacks the necessary intelligence. However, its connotations will be different when we call someone an idiot between our teeth while showing annoyance (“what an idiot…”); when shouted at someone in an argument (“you’re an idiot!”); or when pronounced playfully with a wide, honest smile (“aw, you’re such an idiot…”). It’s a simple word that can show dislike or appreciation. As you might be aware, conveying these subtle differences in connotation is difficult in writing. Emoticons were created as a way of showing those several layers of feelings and intonations. How many times have you written a text, only to realise that it sounded harsher than you intended, and decided to add a wink at the end to minimise the negative impact?

Most of the time, our audience is not going to understand our message in the same way we would like them to, and more often than not, it will be completely misinterpreted. How do we avoid this?

Non verbal communication provides a tool many people are not even aware of using, which I find interesting. Of course there are countless of books and articles on the topic, which if taken word by word, make the whole thing look a bit hocus-pocus and mind controlling. Thing is, and I will never cease to repeat this, the mind is an incredible organ.

There are tips on how to be successful with men/women in which you’re advised to look at them for a certain amount of time, then look away and look back; touch your hair in this or that way; smile like this; act like that… In the end, if you were to try to do all those tips, you would look quite weird and possibly drive that person away… The key aspect of non verbal communication is that it happens at a subconscious level. We can’t force it.

Sure, we can make changes to the way we express ourselves, but that will only happen as an afterthought. Some people seem to be masters at non verbal communication, which I find fascinating. I like reading people’s body language, but I would not consider myself to be good at non verbal communication. I know how my body reacts under certain circumstances, but when you learn that our pupils dilate whenever we’re presented with something we really like… How do you change a reaction like that? Sure, if you have a bit of a sweet tooth, and you see a tempting cake, it hardly matters what your eyes are doing, but what about if you’re a shy person who doesn’t want your crush to know you like them? Well, luckily for you, people hardly notice what our pupils do, which are also affected by light conditions, so nothing to worry about in there.

However, what happens when you inadvertently start turning your body towards that person, or get a silly grin on your face or worse, mimicking their movements! That’s when suddenly, you will realise that you are starting to get nervous, sweat and even blush… just keep the stutter under control and you might still be fine!

Communication between human beings is an amazing thing… Only about 20% of the message is conveyed with actual words, the rest is expressed by non verbal means: intonation, volume of voice, gestures, looks… Even from the moment we wake up and decide on the clothes to wear we’re already communicating something. If we feel like we want to stay in and not socialise, we might choose to wear some tracksuit, a hoodie; maybe we go quickly to the corner shop with sunglasses, or a cap. However, we might choose to wear our best outfit for a date or a job interview, because we’re trying to cause a good impression. Fashion is extremely important in the way we communicate, and it might even shape how we say things and act around others. For example, on a normal day, I know if I’m wearing a pencil skirt which will restrict my movements, I will subconsciously be less loud and crazy. Heels will make me think about how I walk (mainly so that I don’t fall and break a bone or something) the same way that wearing trainers make me comfortable and relaxed.

You might think this is going to far, especially if you’re a guy, but think about when you need to wear a suit with shoes and a tie; and when you wear shorts, some t-shirt, and trainers. Just the fact that the tie might feel too tight on your neck will probably make you feel too self conscious and uncomfortable.

That the other person notices your non verbal cues, might not be a problem in itself. Sometimes, we really can say more with our eyes than with words!

What about when someone actually is completely oblivious to any sort of non verbal communication? Again, you might be flirting with someone, and in that case, well, tough luck, you will need to (wo)man up and actually speak about it.

The real issue is when your whole body is sending “back off” signals to the other person, and they just not notice, or choose to ignore them. No matter how you say it, if there’s a word that always has the same connotations and always means the same and that word is “NO.”

How many times have you been cornered into talking to someone you just wanted to run away from? If it’s in a bar and the dude is not getting any of your “back off” signals, comments, or even if you ignore him, you can simply be rude and tell him to back off, but what about when he’s a colleague, a boss, or someone you unfortunately have to bump into regularly?

There are a bunch of people out there who don’t seem to understand the rules of personal space and non verbal communication. People who, for some reason that eludes me, feel the need to talk to you right on your ear, to reduce the space between you and them, or talk aggressively, or ignore all kind of signals. Seriously, what the heck?

I myself have had a number of situations that I can share with you today, you tell me what you think!

Scenario #1

I am at a bar, having fun with my friend(s) when this guy approaches. He stinks of alcohol and cigarettes (not particularly my choice of fragrance, if I’m honest), and he comes to tell us that he’s seen us from far away, and he wanted to say hi. OK, hi! After two seconds, he has managed to squeeze next to us, and is now sitting on the bench, next to my friend. The guy starts leaning over her when talking, and she starts leaning against me, so that I am pretty much against the wall. He then sees our tattoos and decides that it’s a good idea to not only ask about them (“sure, they’re this or that, have them since then, blah, blah”) but also to touch them. Nope. My friend has a frozen smile on her face, and is trying to not look at him, only replying with monosyllables. The guy is trying to ask us more questions, and I tell him that it was nice to meet him, but we would now like to be alone, as we have some important stuff to discuss. He laughs and asks us if we want a drink, to which we reply we’re good but thanks. He then asks if we live nearby. When we tell him we are not interested, he then asks “why, do you have a boyfriend?” Seriously, we’re not interested in having this conversation, so we tell him again to please leave. At that point, the guy decides it’s a good idea to touch my friend’s neck because, you know, that’s what you do with a stranger, right? So I basically end up asking my friend if she really wants the dude to back off from her, she says yes, I stand up, walk around the table and tell him “Dude, you’re starting to become a nuisance to my friend, please stop touching her and just leave.” We argue, I’m called names, he leaves.

Scenario #2

I am sitting on a train, talking to a friend on Whatsapp, and listening to music. Suddenly there’s a guy sitting nearby, there’s only one empty seat in between us. Since I am looking at my screen, I can’t see properly, but I would swear he’s looking at me. At this point, I don’t know if he looks nice or not, or if he’s friendly or not, I don’t really care. He turns his body towards me, and I think: “he’s probably just sitting that way because he feels more comfortable” and when I glance towards him, he is staring at me. He smiles and I don’t. I look back at my screen, cross my legs towards the opposite side and turn away in general, hoping that it’s clear to read that I don’t want to talk to anyone. He then sees this as a clear invitation, so not only he keeps staring at me, but also moves closer. I am swearing under my breath and repeating “Go. Away. Go. Away,” as a mantra to myself, hoping to use the Force for him to leave me alone, but I think my Force needs a bit of fine tuning, as I suddenly feel a tap on my shoulder. I look up, and look confused as in “did you say anything?” but still don’t remove the headphones. He starts talking to me, so I lift one of the headphones slightly to hear, he says “I think you’re fine, let me take you for a drink” and before he’s even finished the sentence, I smile, say “haha, thanks, but no” and put my music back on.

I know what you’re thinking so far: guys are approaching you and you should be flattered. It’s not flattering, it’s uncomfortable. I don’t like being judged by my physical appearance by a total stranger… Hell, I don’t even want to be judged by a friend! What gives a complete stranger the right to think they can tell me how fine I look, how beautiful I am or whatever. Especially, since automatically the next sentence they utter is “can I have your number?”

I’ve been taught not to talk to strangers, not to get in a stranger’s car, not to take sweets from strangers. Flattery is the adult version of “sweets”. Walking down the street, we are constantly reminded that we’re just a pair of boobs, or a fine ass, or to smile or whatever… That’s not right.

Last one, and possibly the creepiest, even though the guy probably thought he was being the hero of some rom-com…

Scenario #3

I am going back home in the evening, and after getting off the bus, start walking down my long street. The bus I took has the stop at one end, whilst my flat is at the very opposite end of the street. I start walking, and hear some noises coming from the churchyard next to me, which actually scared me a bit because it’s dark (zombies! Run!) but when I look, I can see a group of well dressed people talking on the church car park, about to leave, so I keep walking.

Almost by my door, after walking down my whole street, a car slows down next to me and pulls the window down. The guy seems to say something and, naive me, I think he’s asking for directions. I take my headphones off and ask “sorry?” and he then proceeds to say he’s seen me, and he had to take the chance to say hi. I laugh, say thanks and attempt to leave, but he’s just driving next to me, telling me that I look beautiful and asking for my number, to which I reply I’m not giving him my number. At this point, I’m by my door, but I don’t want this stranger to know where I live, so I walk a bit farther down. He asks me why I don’t want to give him my number, and when I tell him it’s because I don’t know him and him driving around in his car and chatting me up is downright weird, he replies: “let me park so we can speak.” No, dude, no. I don’t want you to park, I want you to drive off into the distance! I have nowhere to hide, since he’s next to me. He parks right there and gets off the car. Now this is starting to look like I’m going to end up charging him a fee, and I don’t like it at all. He asks for my number again, I say no, and he tells me that he’s a lucky person and he sometimes gets jealous of his own luck (“what?”) because he always gets everything he wants, and he’s just so amazed at the universe and his own luck that he knows it’s not right, to which I reply: “well, let me bring you down to earth from that universe, you’re not going to be lucky on this because I’m not giving you my number.” He then tells me that he was just in the church yard when he saw me walking past. He doesn’t live around, but his mum does, and that when he saw me, he thought he needed to grab the chance and talk to me.

“I’m sorry, did you just say that you saw me like 10 minutes ago, hopped on your car and decided to follow me in order to talk to me?” and very proudly he says yes, so I say again “let me get this clear, you just followed me from the other end of the street in your car?” and it sort of hits him then because he replies: “well, when you say it like that it doesn’t sound that good.” Of course it doesn’t! It’s damn creepy! He then decides that after having established he’s creeping me out, it’s a good idea to ask “so where do you live?”

Now, I can see my door from the corner of my eye, but if films have taught me anything is not to glance at it, so I’ve been making a point to look towards the corner shop during our whole conversation, which is next door. I point farther down the street (far away) and say that I live somewhere on the main road (even farther away), and he tells me he would like to see me again. He then tells me he can give me his business card, that he’s legit, and that he is a good person, to which I reply: “listen, I’m sure you are a wonderfully nice and good person, but I am just not interested. I am going to be honest, I don’t want to call you, I am feeling very uncomfortable now and would like you to go.”

I have a question to ask here to all of you guys… Assuming that in a crazy world, and even crazier day you have done all of the above, which I’m sure you haven’t, but hey, let’s imagine for a moment… What would you do then? What would be your next move?

It seems the only reasonable way forward seems to be: “let’s go for a coffee at some other point, because I would like to know you better.”

The only response I could get out of myself at that moment was laughter. I told him no, thanks, and said: “seriously, you have a problem.” At this point it was obvious he wasn’t a kidnapper or a killer, he was just simply oblivious; creepy, true, but oblivious. So I said again that I didn’t want to meet him or anything, and he finally got it. I said bye and proceeded to leave. He got in the car, and I decided to get in the shop and ask the guys to please humour me until the creepy dude left, which they were happy to do. The guy turned his car around to leave, so following me down the street wasn’t even on his way to wherever he was going. After he was gone, I left the shop (“thank you, guys, see you tomorrow”) and walked the 5 steps to my doorstep.

I genuinely believe none of these three (and countless more!) guys meant any harm, but there seem to be certain patterns here, especially for a woman:

1. If you are in public, you’re game. You can be approached at any time, and you should be grateful for the attention.

2. If you are indeed approached, you can be judged, and most definitely touched. You should feel flattered that men are noticing your fine body, great ass, amazing tits, or beautiful smile.

3. Once you’ve been approached, it is only natural that you swoon over the courageous man speaking to you, and accept a drink or give him your number. Show gratefulness once again.

4. It is unthinkable that you would refuse, and therefore, you shouldn’t. Any attempt to refuse will be considered as a “try harder” signal.

5. The only reason why you could possibly refuse and be a sane, functional person is if you already have a boyfriend.

6. In the crazy case that you refuse and are single, the universe might implode… I mean, that would mean that you are either a lesbian, or a bitch – I have left these stories out today, but trust me, I have plenty.

Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do about it, just hold our ground and make sure that these people know what they’re doing is not right. If you are a guy, I hope you understand how it feels. It doesn’t feel as if… who knows, Angelina Jolie telling you that you are attractive, as I guess most guys would be happy with that. To me, a good comparison would be if someone the size of Dwayne Johnson told you (guys) that you have a fine ass. Someone that when you look at them, you think: damn, this guy could actually pin me down and I would be helpless (note here, I actually think The Rock is hot, for some reason, but I would still not appreciate that sort of advance from him!).

There are ways to approach someone and ways that should be considered harassment. There are no “blurred lines” or anything of the sort. If you have to start a conversation by “I know this might seem weird, but,” “I never do this,” or if you have to explain yourself by saying something like “I am not trying to be weird/creepy here,” you probably are coming off as exactly that and I would advise that you actually rethink your strategy, and exit like a gentleman before it’s too late.

All the above can be applicable to any gender and any situation. There is clear non verbal communication that means “do not talk to me” but people seem to miss it everyday. It’s not right, as most of you would know. Personal space, people, personal space!

In case there is even some doubt, I’m going to go ahead and explain a seemingly tricky situation, something that guys seem to think it can be right, but women don’t appreciate that much: grabbing someone’s bottom when they walk past you on their way to the bar is definitely not a conversation starter. Don’t do it. If you think you have the right to waive all social rules by making physical contact and touching my ass, then I guess I have the right to slap you across the face, or make knee-crotch contact.

I think it would only be fair, don’t you?